Ron Thom was born in Penticton, British Columbia in 1923 to parents, James Thom, who emigrated to Canada from Scotland in 1906, and Elena Myrtle Fennel, originally from Kars, Ontario. He had two younger sisters, Heather and Mavis, and was married two times, to Christine Millard in 1943, and to Molly Golby in 1963. After entering the Vancouver School of Art in 1940, his studies were put on hold due to WWII, where he served as navigator with the Royal Canadian Air Force. When the War ended, Thom recommenced his schooling as a scholarship graduate and developed an interest in architecture and planning. His interest in architecture was greatly influenced by his architecture teacher, Bert Binning. Of Binning, Thom says, "Binning taught me to see, and he taught me to think. He was one of the most important teachers in my life. The strongest thing he taught us, which has had a profound influence on everything I've done in architecture since, was that every aspect of the design had to respond directly to the world around it, whether it be colour or form, or where the light came in, or the views looking out" (Shadbolt, p.10). Thom began teaching architecture at the School of Art before being invited to teach design at the Architectural School of the University of British Columbia. He was soon to join the architectural firm, Thompson, Berwick & Pratt, and became an architect by indenturing, and later a design partner.
During the early 1960s, Thom gained national recognition when he captured his first major design award for Massey College. It was during this time that the then-Dean of Devonshire House at University of Toronto, Thomas H.B. Symons, came to know Thom and admire his work. A few years later, in 1962, when Symons was appointed Trent's first president, the University undertook a search for a master planning architect to design and construct new buildings on Trent's Nassau Campus, located along the Otonabee River, north of Peterborough, Ontario. Thom was hired as master planning architect of the newly founded university. The recommendation to hire Ron Thom is cited in the June 24th, 1964 meeting minutes of Trent University's Joint Committee on Architecture. It states "that Mr. Ronald J. Thom and the firm of Thompson, Berwick, Pratt and Partners be commissioned to undertake the design of the first group of buildings, including, in addition to Champlain College, the first women's college, the University library, the first unit of the science building, and the associated services."
Thom's Trent buildings, named upon completion, are Thomas J. Bata Library, Champlain College, Lady Eaton College, and the Chemistry Building. Thom is also credited with choosing their furniture and furnishings, and with renovating and furnishing properties that Trent purchased in the city of Peterborough prior to the building of the new buildings on the Symons Campus (formerly called the Nassau Campus), Rubidge Hall, Peter Robinson College, and Catharine Parr Traill College. The Symons Campus buildings have received numerous design awards, including four citations of excellence in architecture from the International College & University Conference and Exposition, the National Design Council Merit Award, and the Toronto Chapter of the Ontario Association of Architects Annual Design Award. Thom's business partner, Paul Merrick, designed the Faryon Bridge which crosses the Otonabee River on the University site, joining the east and west banks.
Other renowned designs for which Thom has received national and international acclaim include several private homes, Massey College at the University of Toronto, the Shaw Festival Theatre at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Vancouver's 60-story British Columbia Building, Sir Sandford Fleming College in Peterborough, the Civic Centre in Hamilton, and the arts and science complex at Queen's University.
Ron Thom received an honorary degree from Trent University in 1971. He died
at his office in Toronto in 1986.
Ron Thom Business Card, ca. 1967
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